Martin Luther King Day is always both a somber and an inspirational day – with participants memorializing the day across the U.S. by hosting events and generating awareness of concerns that impact underserved communities. This year, it also falls on the recently deceased, and widely adored, Betty White’s birthday. And this is offering an unexpected assist to awareness campaigns. We’ll share a bit about that, in context of the larger conversation, as well.
Last year, we saw a good bit of online conversation around a variety of “day of service” activities – and much of it has carried over to this year, in fact. And this year, the recent passing of Betty White is making an impact as well. Her contributions and generosity toward a variety of marginalized communities have tied into the upcoming MLK remembrances, helping propel impressions the first week in January to well beyond the previous year.
In fact, online impressions surrounding MLK Day in 2022 reach 1B vs the 145M that conversation reached in 2021:
And the conversation that comes up often is the Betty White-MLK combo – and there are a few angles to explore.
The Betty White-MLK Comb
Betty White, an actress adored in the U.S., passed just a couple of weeks shy of here 100th birthday and one day short of the New Year. There was a television special planned to honor the expected centenarian that had been advertised for months ahead. And even though she was certainly running down that life clock, her death came as a shock – one with impeccable timing, which is something the star was known for.
Dying hours before New Year’s Eve ensures that Betty White will have more toasts made to her memory on the day she died than just about anyone in history. She always was a master of timing.
— Tom and Lorenzo (@tomandlorenzo) December 31, 2021
The ensuing outpouring resulted in a variety of events in her name, speaking to her love of animals with pet adoption goals and donations to animal shelters nationwide, as well as a Zoo naming a memorial garden for her, acknowledging her long-time support
And beyond being known for her love of animals and impeccable comedic timing, White was also a staunch defender of diversity and inclusion, known for making her voice her around important issues, including homophobia and racism.
In 1954, #BettyWhite was criticized after having Arthur Duncan, a Black tap dancer, on her show.
Her response: “I’m sorry. Live with it.”
She then gave Duncan even more airtime. The show was canceled soon after.
— The Martin Luther King, Jr. Center (@TheKingCenter) December 31, 2021
There was concern that parades in her honor could potentially overshadow MLK Day, which is something the star would definitely not have wanted. So, they have been moved to the day before to keep the focus where it should be
But it isn’t all focused on Betty White, of course, as MLK Day of Service events have been around for many years, and they earned a well-deserved boost from the Biden Administration last year as well. So, let’s see how the conversation – and events – are shaping up this year.
MLK Day of Service Events & Conversation
Probably the largest event is the Greater Philadelphia MLK Day of Service organization, offering its 27th year of service-focused opportunities.
It would be surprising if local participants couldn’t find something that speaks to them on the attached Global Citizen database.
Beyond Philly, a quick Google search of “MLK Day of Service events near me” shows endless opportunities. And exploring social analytics, we can see the ways that online participants are leaning into this day, and what they find valuable when it comes to “giving back.”
COVID concerns figure prominently, with many opting for donations and other virtual options that do not require in-person participation. And this ties in with the ages of people sharing these ideas online – as many are older and more susceptible to all things COVID. This “index” compares comparable ‘typical’ conversation happening with these age groups about this and other topics online.
Though, there’s a struggle developing around participating in events on this day at all – and it is being led by MLK’s family, and resonating with many online.
Day of Service Struggles
Those seeking to honor the man and his legacy this year are receiving some conflicting guidance online, with this tweet from his family trending and gaining traction during the days leading up to the 17th:
PSA: Martin Luther King Jr.’s family is calling for no celebration of MLK Day without action on voting rights legislation.
Spread the word.
— Robert Reich (@RBReich) January 14, 2022
But, as some observers counter, this effort may not have the desired effect. In fact, they fear it may play into the hands of those who take issue with the day and want to see it not happen at all.
I don’t know about that. You know how many people would br happy to not celebrate MLK day just because they hate celebrating anything black?
— I Smoked Trump’s Seditious Conspiracy (@BlackKnight10k) January 14, 2022
This is leaving people conflicted, adding to negative sentiment expressed on this day, as we can see below. Last year, Net Sentiment (which ranges from -100 to 100) was at an expected 56, considering the solemn reason for the day. There was reason to feel hopeful though, with an administration that was actively engaged in promoting the day.
This year, we see sentiment has dropped this first week in 2022, registering at 33 and indicating a much more subdued and cautious response.
Correspondingly, brands participating in online day of service events and promotions must tread lightly this year. They should very carefully and completely explore their target audiences’ conversations for clues around how to best proceed. And then monitoring those conversations as the day – and the coming weeks – progress will be important as well.
A tone-deaf brand is not one that customers seek out when they’re wanting to make that next purchase, and your competitors are likely paying close attention as well. Whoever does so with the highest accuracy and relevance to audience needs will win out not only on this day, but will set the tone for the entire year. This is a crucial touchpoint that many brands will miss! Be sure to reach out for a demo and we’ll make sure you’re on the right side of this equation.